Malbork, Gdańsk & Toruń, Poland
The four hour drive to Malbork was incredibly boring, with mundane scenery and terrible roads. There was only one main highway going north, single lane all the way, no overtaking lanes and crammed with trucks – ridiculous. The one reason we had for visiting Malbork (and putting up with the traffic) was to see the castle. The castle is apparently the largest Gothic castle in Europe, which was enough of an excuse to make the trip. When we arrived we couldn't deny that it was enormous, but it wasn't amazing enough for us to actually go inside. We thought we could see plenty from the outside and presumed the interior would be like every other castle we had visited, so we saved our money. There were dozens of medieval-themed souvenir shops around the perimeter, selling swords, crossbows, shields and princess outfits. We managed not to buy anything, although Danny was fairly keen on the swords.
Another hour of driving and we arrived in Gdańsk. We headed straight for the caravan park, conveniently close to the beach, but it was one of the more bizarre caravan parks we have stayed in. It was set in the woods yet the surface was all sand, and it seemed to be a big mess of permanent and temporary caravans sprawled around haphazardly. Many of these caravans were blocking the roads inside the park so we had to drive around the perimeter of the site and enter through a side gate. I think we were lucky to get a spot, as we were shoved in a corner where we could only just reach the electricity outlet. The free and fast internet was a big tick in our books, so that brought the place up a notch. There was a bar (i.e. shack) on site that also cooked meals. Danny took one look at the place and vowed never to eat there. He did buy three beers though, after saying yesterday that he wasn't going to drink again for a week.
After dinner we walked down to the water which, like Lithuania, had a few bars and carnival-like stalls set up along the shore. There was far too much loud music and dancing for our liking, so we skipped over most of it. The beach itself was beautiful: massive and peaceful, with the softest sand in the world. The only downside was the shipping containers that were lined up in the water to one side, ruining the idyllic sight.
The next morning we headed for the beach and found it already crowded, with what felt like hundreds more arriving every minute. Luckily the beach was so big that there was plenty of room for everyone. Seemed like Gdańsk was the place to be on your summer holidays.
We caught the tram into Gdańsk town and walked down the main street to the river. The street was lovely: old, colourful buildings, tall and narrow, all leaning snugly against each other. Most were occupied by restaurants and souvenir stores. The town was also swarming with people, as though everyone had followed us from the beach.
Everywhere we looked in town we saw churches, nearly all undergoing restoration. We located the market hall in amongst the churches and Danny stocked up on chanterelles (he can't resist mushrooms), wild blueberries and cherries. I bought what I thought were cold sausages but turned out to be some sort of cabbage snack, which was a bit of a let down. I happily stumbled upon a shop that only sold gingerbread, of every variety you could imagine. I bought a packet of the original variety, which turned out to be from the next town we were visiting (which is famous for its gingerbread). It was amazing. I can't wait until we hit Toruń.
We searched hard to find souvenirs that said 'G'day from Gdańsk'. It didn't happen.
I walked up a random hill on the outskirts of town that offered me city views. Half of the town (old town) was stunning but the other half (new town) was jam-packed with hundreds of cranes. Not so attractive. Just before heading back to the car I visited the Cemetery of Non-existent Cemeteries – basically a place where people can go when they don't know where their loved ones are buried or if the grave site was destroyed during war. It was only a small grassy area with a few mounds; it appeared to be visited infrequently. Although it was bare, it was a touching thought.
After eating lunch we drove to Toruń, three hours away, munching on cherries while we drove. We happened to find a car park one kilometre out from the city centre and close to a supermarket, which almost made us jump for joy (little things like this really make our day). Danny made a risotto for dinner using the chanterelles he bought earlier. It went fantastically with our truffle oil.
We fell asleep listening to thunder and rain and woke to the same. It wasn't a hard decision to stay in bed until it stopped, which was about 10 a.m. Although we often rise late we don't usually have lazy mornings where we lie awake in bed, so we felt a little indulgent to be doing this. It didn't rain at all for the rest of the day - we even saw blue skies in the afternoon.
We walked into Toruń and headed for the centre square, which was only okay by Poland's high standards. There weren't a lot of sights to see in Toruń, so we wandered around aimlessly. We found an old castle that was being converted into a casino, an impressive leaning tower, lots of Copernicus memorabilia (he was born here), plus several gingerbread shops, which was our main reason for visiting the town. We weren't sure why Toruń was known for gingerbread but we took advantage of it and scouted out several stores. In the end we bought a huge mixed bag for about €8 - it would probably cost three times this in Australia. Some of the biscuits were filled with apricot jam, which was a surprising treat – not a combination I would have thought of. Toruń was definitely worth the detour.